Are animal notes like Ambergris, Musk, Civet, Castoreum still used in modern perfumery?
Since there’s no official regulation regarding the use of animal notes in perfumery, some countries are still using them. But in Europe and Americas their use has long been discontinued mainly for ethical reasons (would you wear a perfume whose production required killing an animal?) but also technical (limited quantities available=high costs). We then tested Ambrarome (Synarome specialty replacing the ambergris, with warm honey, leather effects and a remembrance of Cistus labdanum) and Civette Odoressence (Robertet specialty very close to the actual animal scent).
Here, we’ve been told that in the movie “Hannibal” (sequel of the “Silence of the Lambs”) Hannibal Lecter mails Clarice Starling an envelope scented with Santa Maria Novella’s ambergris; the expert explains her that the use of ambergris (grey amber) is banned in the US because it’s extracted from whales, which are protected by an international treaty. He then says that ambergris can be purchased only in countries which refuse to join the treaty.
After the launch of the movie Santa Maria Novella has been receiving emails of insults and menace from US citizens who didn’t check what grey amber actually is, and had to spend money and time to explain that:
1 - ambergris is a product of the intestine of sperm whales periodically expelled and beached after months or years spent under sun and sea (giving it a wonderful scent);
2 - gray amber use is nowhere prohibited because to get it, sperm whales are not even approached, let alone killed.
Moreover (this is my addition) the only treaty that might echo the one quoted in the movie is the Kyoto Protocol, which besides regulating CO2 emissions also protects cetaceans from hunting and economic exploitation. Unfortunately, just the U.S. chose not to join the protocol…
After all fiction is fiction, not information!
I often read “This perfume features real Bulgarian rose, Tea rose is here, or Centifolia or other types of roses”. What do they smell like? And, as far as smell is concerned, does the place they have been grown have any influence? I would like to smell all of them, to figure out the differences.
A given raw material may smell differently due to differences in the botanical species (centifolia and bulgarian rose do smell differently), but also the geographical area where the plant is grown makes a difference. Finally, even the processing method affects the final smell.
With regard to the botanical species, only two types of roses are used in perfumery: centifolia and damask (or bulgarian) rose. Ta'if rose had existed in the past but today there is so little that it is almost a legend! We then smelled the essential oils of the two roses species.
To illustrate the differences deriving from the growing location we then tested two sandalwood oils: sandalwood Mysore (warm, toasted, creamy) and Australian sandalwood (green, fresh, pungent).
For the extraction method we explored the orange blossom: the neroli essential oil is the result of distillation, while orange blossom absolute is derived from solvent extraction (thus they don’t only smell different, but their name is different, too).
What are the Italy’s perfumed Excellence?
Orange blossom from Sicily, bergamot form Calabria, Florentine orris, and helycrisum.
The last questions regarded the most technical aspects of perfume-making: “How is it possible that the liquid is perfectly clear water without impurities or bubbles or something else? Artistic perfumes are simply matured in special containers. Do industrial ones undergo more sophisticated procedure of maceration?”
Maceration and aging/maturing are two different processes! Maceration means putting the perfume into alcohol. That is the formula from a simple list of raw material is transformed into a bottle full of essential oils and synthetic molecules, which is then put into alcohol. Aging/maturing means allowing the compound a long enough time for the notes to blend well and complement each other, giving the feeling of fullness and roundness, characteristic of a "finished" product.
Again, thanks to Maria Grazia for asking me to join her in this divulgation task, it was not only enjoyable and fun but I’ve also learnt a lot.